ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA, Reporter Newspapers broadcast Partner) – The Georgia Board of Education voted to recommend Gov. Nathan Deal suspend six of the nine members of the DeKalb County School Board without pay. The three newly elected members of the board will keep their jobs.
After a 14 hour hearing on Thursday, Feb. 21, the board voted unanimously to suspend Nancy Jester, Eugene Walker, Sarah Copelin-Wood, Donna Elder, and Pamela Speaks. The board members will be suspended with pay.Newly elected members Melvin Johnson, Marshall Orson and Jim McMahan will remain. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in December placed the board on accreditation probation.
The Parents for DeKalb Schools group posted this reaction on its Facebook page, “Hallelujah! Encourage every stakeholder you know to follow this page. Your engagement and support is needed now more than ever for the 100k children of DeKalb. This is merely the 1st step on a NEW journey. It is up to YOU now. (And the Governor!)”
During the 14 hours of hearings Thursday, it was standing-room only as the Georgia State Board of Education decided if DeKalb County School Board members should be given the boot.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) put the district on probation for a lack of leadership, money mismanagement and an abuse of power.
“The board fails to operate responsibly and function effectively. The evidence will show they struggled, within the last several months, multiple votes, to even elect a board chair,” stated Jennifer Hackemeyer, general council for the state, in opening statements.
Attorneys for the DeKalb County School Board pointed out that new leadership is now in place, but they need time to turn the situation around.
“The school board, has in fact, elected a new chair. The school board, has in fact, elected a new vice chair,” argued Bob Wilson, the board’s attorney.
The president of SACS was the first witness called to the stand. He testified about his agency’s investigation.
“It’s going to take the performance of an entire governing body and leadership team and staff at all levels of this county to change 10 years,” said Mark Elgart. “It didn’t get created overnight and it’s not going solved overnight.”
Many watching the hearing said the state board’s decision is crucial to the future of the county and the state.
“I think the bottom line is you’ve got 100,000 kids. You’ve got possible loss of accreditation,” said Sen. Fran Miller, R-Atlanta. “If that would happen, it’s economic devastation for the state of Georgia and the metro area.”
DeKalb board members tried to stop the State Board of Education hearing on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, but a judge blocked that request.
The Georgia Board of Education’s recommendation is not final. Deal will have the final say.
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